Jose Mourinho's limitations left exposed
Chelsea boss may blame players but he should ask why he has failed to rally them, writes Sam Wallace
Jose Mourinho has never hidden from the fact that when the pressure is on over the course of a season at the elite end of European club football, where every side is 11 multimillionaire international players, his style of management is not for the faint-hearted.
The Chelsea manager, for as long as he is, can be brutally frank with his players in the dressing room about their failings, and he tends to do it with his backroom staff of Rui Faria, Silvino Louro and Steve Holland at his shoulder. Not many have challenged him over the years, and those who have done so tend to find their team-mates' eyes lowered to the ground when the confrontation is over.
Playing for Mourinho has been very good for a lot of footballers' careers but it is not something that every good footballer can do.
During this disastrous season, over nine league defeats and a slump unprecedented for a Premier League defending champion, that confrontational style has not delivered the usual results and the question for those who run the club is whether it ever will.
Mourinho, with eight league titles in the bank across four European leagues, with two Champions League trophies and the status of the world's leading club manager, will be forgiven for thinking that it cannot be the methods that are wrong. But this season his Chelsea players have looked like a team afraid to make mistakes, or to take risks and likely to crumble when things go wrong.
Where has it gone wrong? The challenge for their manager since results started to slide in late August has been whether he could change the atmosphere from a team who look afraid to play to one ready to take on the world. With five defeats since Chelsea issued their edict of conditional support for their manager on October 5, it would seem the club have their answer.
In early October he was challenged on his style of management of dressing-room admonishments and made no apologies for it. "Of course, [I criticise] in front of the other players - because I coach. When I criticise the mistake of my right-back and Ola Aina is present, it's an education for him. When I criticise a mistake of Gary Cahill and John Terry is in the meeting ... then he knows what I want. If I criticise Willian for his movement, Pedro is listening and learning."
In a winning environment, Mourinho has been able to push his players to greater heights. In a losing environment, he has been unable to change the mood. It culminated in his public blaming of his own players after Monday's defeat by Leicester City, which is a viewpoint he had come close to expressing in recent weeks. The extreme and divisive nature of it has been something that those in charge of the club have been unable to ignore.
There is a fine line between pushing a team to their limits and simply making scapegoats of footballers with an already low supply of confidence.
Mourinho's style of management dictates that he operates on the edge, and in recent months he has found it impossible to rescue a situation that has spiralled out of his control.
He began the season with a contract extension two days before the Community Shield. Within eight days he had undermined Eva Carneiro, the first-team doctor, and the club found themselves having to defend the sort of behaviour they thought was in their past.
Carneiro's legal case has been drawn out to the extent that the employment tribunal is not until next month. Her public demotion, and Mourinho's refusal to defuse the situation diplomatically, hinted at the kind of mood he was in, but even so the decline since has been remarkable.
Mourinho has reacted in the only way he knows. He has ferociously defended his track record and tried ever more extreme tactics to change the momentum. He has challenged owner Roman Abramovich not to sack him live on television. He has dropped his best players, he has substituted them or brought them on or, in the case of Nemanja Matic, brought them on and substituted them. He has reminded them and the world who he is and what he has achieved. But none of it has worked.
In giving this Chelsea squad a more hard-line, unadulterated Mourinho experience than they have had over the two preceding seasons, he has made them less like a Mourinho team than any he has coached since his breakthrough at Porto 13 years ago.
Chelsea came back too late to pre-season, partly because they played two post-season games in Thailand and Australia. They failed on a number of their major transfer targets, including John Stones. The economic power of the English game shifted in the summer and a transfer fee which a club such as Everton would ordinarily have been unable to turn down was, for the first time, not enough for a player like Stones.
Clubs such as West Ham, Southampton and Everton, all of whom have beaten Chelsea in the league this season, have signed a better quality of player than ever. Yet at the top of the Premier League, at least by last season's standards, Chelsea have been unable to make a proportionate leap forward in the quality of their own signings.
It is saying something when the two most successful signings of Chelsea's summer were the 19-year-old Brazilian Kenedy and the reserve goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who provided reliable cover during Thibaut Courtois's absence. The rest, Pedro Rodriguez aside, have not managed to effect change of any notable kind.
Given the rapid turnover of players during the 30 months of his second spell at the club, it is obvious that there are many who do not find Mourinho to their tastes. They are not all bad players either, as Kevin De Bruyne, David Luiz, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schurrle, Ryan Bertrand, Mohamed Salah, Luis Filipe and Juan Cuadrado have demonstrated subsequently. Chelsea have backed their manager's judgment time and again.
Only Petr Cech's sale to Arsenal - approved by Abramovich - did he oppose.
That said, the list of the departed is enough to make even the most devout Mourinho loyalist gulp in disbelief. There were individual reasons why each of them left the club but they look like the basis of a better side than the one Chelsea currently have.
Chelsea bought into the Mourinho approach for a second time in the summer of 2013 and it delivered them the fifth league title of their history and another League Cup.
Not a bad return, all told, but they can only despair at the speed at which it has unravelled and their manager's powerlessness to stop it from doing so. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
The Key questions in Chelsea's conundrum
Chelsea's poor run continued with defeat at Leicester on Monday night.
Jose Mourinho's defending Premier League champions are now 20 points adrift of the table-topping Foxes.
But what can be done to arrest an ever-increasing slide at Stamford Bridge? Here are the key questions the club needs to address.
STICK OR TWIST ON MOURINHO?
Owner Roman Abramovich has never been backwards in coming forwards when it comes to changing his manager - including bringing an end to Mourinho's first successful spell at Chelsea. The Portuguese has been backed to turn things around but as the abysmal defence of their Premier League crown continues, the Russian oligarch could soon decide enough is enough.
One issue facing Abramovich is who would he bring in to replace the self-titled 'Special One' but any further embarrassment could lead to Mourinho's exit anyway. On the other hand, should he give Mourinho a chance he could very well be proved right in the long term.
WHICH PLAYERS HAVE 'BETRAYED' THE MANAGER?
Mourinho hit out at his squad following their ninth league defeat in 16 games and claimed his players had betrayed him. But who could his accusatory finger have been pointing at?
Eden Hazard collected both PFA Player of the Year and the Footballer of the Year award from the Football Writers' Association but has been a shadow of his former self so far this season.
The Belgium international came off injured at the King Power Stadium despite Mourinho asking him to stay on the pitch and, while Diego Costa remained in the game for its entirety, the Spain striker once again flattered to deceive.
Passing up a great opportunity to score, Costa also focused more on arguments with both Leicester and Chelsea players. Cesc Fabregas came on in the second half as Mourinho scarified captain John Terry but again this time last season he would have been a key figure rather than an option off the bench.
TIme to shake up the team? Loic Remy scored off the bench against Leicester and giving the France forward a run in the side could kick-start the Blues as an attacking force.
Meanwhile, Ruben Loftus-Cheek remains a viable option in midfield with the prospect of reuniting Terry and Gary Cahill for a prolonged period at the heart of his defence surely proving tempting to Mourinho.
Baba Rahman was an expensive summer acquisition but is yet to establish himself at Stamford Bridge - what does Mourinho have to lose in tinkering in the manner Claudio Ranieri once did?
Should they bulk-buy in the January sales? Any business Mourinho and the club wish to conduct will not be constrained by cash and, if Abramovich keeps faith with the manager, he will look to give him a helping hand by recruiting in the new year.
Do Chelsea remain an attractive option? Maybe not to the world's elite at the moment but they will not be readily available anyway. What the club need is to recruit players of the calibre of the club but also hard-working enough to roll up their sleeves and battle - or risk 'betraying' their boss.